Real Bodies pp 64-78 | Cite as

The ‘Disabled’ Body

  • Carol Thomas


The wheelchair, the white cane and the crutch signal bodies that do not work in ‘normal’ ways, bodies that we commonly refer to as being ‘disabled’. If we have missing limbs, debilitating chronic diseases, or cannot see or hear, then we can expect to be grouped with others whose bodies and bodily behaviours are seen to vary from the usual in problematic ways — then we belong to the ranks of ‘the disabled’. Cultural reactions to bodies that have something permanently ‘wrong’ with them range from disgust and abhorrence to heartfelt pity — ‘what a tragedy’. Medical responses are to try to ‘fix’ the bodily deviation, to create or restore normality, and to prevent the births of ‘deformed’ or otherwise ‘defective’ fetuses (J. Morris, 1991; Shakespeare, 1999). This medical agenda has been hugely boosted by recent developments in genetic science which, at least in popular media representation, promises to rid human beings of much the burden of disease and disfigurement (Shakespeare, 1999). Thus, disability seems to be all about real bodies that are physically, sensory or intellectually different in undesirable ways. What could remind us more forcibly of the ‘real’ nature of bodies if not a missing leg or the inability to make the sounds that we call speech? In dialogue with these apparent certainties, this chapter sets out to show that this is terrain where the fixities about bodies, and the meanings invested in bodily differences, can be as thoroughly questioned and found wanting as they can in discussions about gender or ‘race’, as outlined in previous chapters.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Disable People Social Barrier Wheelchair User Disable Woman 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Further reading

  1. Corker, Mairian, and Sally French (eds), Disability Discourse (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  2. A valuable collection of essays on the theorization and lived experience of disability.Google Scholar
  3. Morris, Jenny (ed.), Encounters with Strangers: Feminism and Disability (London: The Women’s Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  4. An important collection of papers on the need for a feminist engagement with disability questions.Google Scholar
  5. Thomas, Carol, Female Forms: Experiencing and Understanding Disability (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  6. This book examines key debates about disability and impairment from a feminist perspective, making use of disabled women’s narrative accounts. Susan, Wendell, The Rejected Body, Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (London: Routledge, 1996).Google Scholar
  7. This author explores key dimensions of knowledge about disability and disability experience.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Carol Thomas 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol Thomas

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations